What To Do About The Escalating Spate Of Shopkeeper Standovers…?

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There’s something seriously disconcerting going on out there in the Auckland community at the moment. For several months now, barely a week has passed without a story about some lowlife thugs violently doing over a convenience store, liquor shop or dairy, frequently injuring staff in the process.

The owners and operators, predominantly Indian, feel somewhat powerless to stop them – and with good reason.

In an ideal world that’s sadly unlike the one we presently reside in, police would be on-hand to quickly and expeditiously respond to any and all such calls of a ‘robbery in progress’. But due to a fundamentally callous and cost-cutting government, our law enforcement is cripplingly under-resourced to actually do anything about the problem. Shopkeepers dialing 111 are told that Police are too busy to respond; or have to feign that they themselves are equipped with firearms in order to get the attention of law enforcement. Impending police station closures will only exacerbate the issue, and for the moment we’re left with both the Police Minister and the Police themselves urging a greater role for the “community” in crime prevention.

Or, in other words, as Homer Simpson famously campaigned on during his own tilt at a local body governance position … “Can’t Someone Else Do It.”

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But the trouble is, the clearest and most obvious way in which shopkeepers are able to take the problem into their own hands as it were, is carefully circumscribed by law.

If a dairy-staffer is suddenly inundated with rambunctiously rampaging ragamuffins rapaciously ransacking as many kilograms of cigarettes from his store as they can possibly carry … said proprietor is pretty much powerless to stop them. They can’t exactly physically restrain a perpetrator – there’s no specific legal provision to explicitly allow them to do so. The closest law I could find on the subject, s53 of the Crimes Act, tightly constrains the forms of physical intercession available to anyone seeking to use reasonable force in defence of property; and there’s strong anecdotal evidence that shopkeepers are simply too afraid of legal repercussions from even something as simple as physically restraining an offender and waiting for the cops to arrive to actually and actively take control of the situation.

They’ve unfortunately got good cause to be trepidacious. It wasn’t so long ago that another shopkeeper – a Mr V. Singh – found himself on the wrong end of criminal assault charges after using reasonable force to defend himself and a co-worker from drunken teenagers armed with a knife who’d invaded his store and stabbed him.

Fortunately, in Mr Singh’s case, the charges were thrown out after a certain high-profile defence lawyer offered to get involved and fight Singh’s case free of charge – but the chilling effect upon shopkeepers feeling able to defend themselves and their establishments (a deliberate motivation for the police in bringing the charges in the first place) has remained.

I’d say it was only a matter of time before somebody was killed – but incredibly sadly, that’s already happened.

So what do we do about this sorry and evidently escalating situation.

Well the obvious answer – and inarguably the best one – is to properly resource the New Zealand Police to actually do their job. New Zealand First secured a thousand extra front-line police plus three hundred support staff the last time we were proximate to Government between 2005-2008, and it’s incredibly disheartening that National appears to have undone our good work at the stroke of a series of pens over the last few years. This isn’t just an armchair pundit’s opinion, however – a massive eighty six percent of front-line officers themselves believe that our Police lack the resources they need to properly do their job. And in light of the Government’s frankly inexplicable decision to close a number of cop-shops in the name of cost-cutting, community access to policing is only going to get worse.

So it seems, on the face of it, that improvements in both the quantity and quality of policing to address this issue are off the table.

We must therefore look for alternative solutions, pending the election of an alternative government.

Some shopkeepers want a law-change to explicitly empower them to be able to physically restrain malcontents rather than having to let them walk out the door. While this would obviously solve some of the short-term issues thrown up by the present police shortage – as the inevitable (and lengthening) delay-period between a 111 call being logged and an officer turning up at the scene would no longer provide an enviable opportunity for the perpetrators to melt into the ether – it’s a clearly imperfect solution. If there are a half a dozen offenders flash-raiding your shop, as seems to be the new favoured M.O for these sorts of engagements, there’s a somewhat limited chance that the one or two staff on-site are likely to be in a position to seriously consider restraining anybody.

That is not to say such a proposal is completely lacking in merit. As applies smaller-scale heists with more limited numbers of offenders such as those common in supermarkets, knowing that shopkeepers and/or security staff have the lawful power to physically detain you while the cops arrive could form a deterrent to committing crime in the first place. The lack of such an easily enactable provision certainly does, at present, encourage the opportunism inherent in this lower-level offending.

At the more serious end of the spectrum, there have also been demands for a clarification of our Nation’s self-defence laws. At present, the way these work is that under s48 of the Crimes Act, people are justified (and therefore legally protected) in using “reasonable force” in defence of themselves or others. The trouble is, “reasonable force” is a highly nebulous standard – and subject to quite a myriad of interpolating factors.

Ordinarily, it’s up to Police to make a decision as to whether the force used was reasonable, and ‘filter out’ people who shouldn’t be put through the legal system as a result; but the number of charges being thrown out pre-trial would appear to indicate that the Police are often erring too far on the side of caution when it comes to the use of their discretion, and instead taking an approach of leaving such determinations more exclusively up to the judiciary.

While it might seem like a sound legal practice to insist that any application of force in self defence ought to be one that can stand up to exterior scrutiny in court, the plain fact of the matter is that legal bills and other associated costs of proving one’s innocence are highly expensive – which leads to the inescapable conclusion that the extant regime is forcing morally blameless people (the victims in these situations no less) to be financially penalized for what later turn out to be perfectly legal (even occasionally outright commendable) actions in self defence.

Clearly, there is some considerable scope for either law or process reform in this area – and that’s why in the run-up to the 2014 Election, New Zealand First campaigned upon a somewhat related legislative proposal designed to cover homeowners using force in self-defence against burglars and other intruders. NZF also made strongly approving noises about clarifying the ambit of self defence laws in order to give a greater degree of certainty to people having to use them, so as to hopefully avoid unfortunate repeats of the undesirable situation outlined above.

A final point worthy of mention is that as one of the core underpinnings of this recent wave of convenience-store targeted crime is the increase in cigarette-prices due to excise tax hikes (which have made cigarettes both less affordable, and more relatively valuable on the black market as a result), there remains every likelihood that both the level of offending – and the brazenness with which it is carried out – will only continue to get worse.

All things considered, my innate liberal proclivities mean that I remain somewhat uncomfortable with the notion of ordinary citizens having to take the law into their own hands. Not simply because of the risks inherent to such a position that a defender might go too far; but also, and more fundamentally because in a modern, nominally first-world Nation … this isn’t how things ought to be. People shouldn’t *have* to take the law into their own hands, because our Police ought to be properly resourced. Shortfalls in political will and material support for law enforcement are not factors that should be allowed to force us into a corner and contemplate either accepting crime as a day-to-day cost of doing business here in New Zealand, or put the onus on regular New Zealand citizens to defend themselves and their property from the economically violently indigent.

And yet, here we are.

It shouldn’t take another shopkeeper being stabbed, badly beaten, or even killed to get this issue taken firmly in hand. However we choose to do it.

We can’t just let this keep happening.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Lack of govt funding is the root cause of this: a deliberate withholding of our taxes to resource not only law enforcement but also the the many other unrelated social services. The evidence of this is blatant and the net result?

    A deterioration in quality of our social fabric.

    And yet we have the higher echelons of the Police involved in obvious pro govt directives … in regards to the invasion of Nicky Hager’s home and seizure of his financial records… the lack of will to press charges throughout the dirty politics saga and the fallout thereof…

    The admittance there is a culture of racism among the NZ Police… this condition has worsened progressively ever since the Key led govt came to power. The links are obvious. So to is the decline in social services and the very quality that goes to make that society a healthy one.

    And you are right… the citizen should not be expected to have to take matters into their own hands… this is why we have a tax paid for Police force. Coupled with the fact that ‘ reasonable force’ has a very ambiguous definition… it is true that the theory of NZ law contains quite adequate scope for self defense and the defense of ones property , however that usually will apply when there are no other options available immediately to prevent harm or theft.

    In other words, the emphasis is still on relying on adequate policing to prevent members of the public from having to go to those lengths in the first place.

    You can however physically restrain an offender and make a citizens arrest ie: holding a purse snatcher until Police arrive, you cannot strike in any way whatsoever , or otherwise become the assailant…as automatically you then become the offender regards assault charges. And the law also makes a distinction between daylight and darkness.

    But even with all these provisions and legal framework… there are a myriad of circumstances whereby the application of the laws of self defense and protection of property is simply not feasible. Age of the victim , ie : the elderly, the very young , environment ie : rural settings, numbers of offenders ( as you have already mentioned) and so on…

    Which brings us right back to the main thrust of your article… Govt cuts of officers on the ground, govt cuts to funding and closures of Police stations and the availability and realistic arrival of the Police to incidents.

    It is not a ‘Police state ‘ to have a large Police force at all . It is one however where that Police force has no effective checks and balances on their actions and when that Police force is seen to be acting in a politically biased manner.

    So yes… there is and has been no excuse for this current govt to expose the NZ public to harm by the irresponsible under-funding and downsizing of our Police force.

    • Wild Katipo is exactly right.

      Auckland is going to be another LA in 10yrs if we don’t get back to sharing the common wealth of the country as we used to do before robbernomics began late 1080,s.

      Remember when Roger Douglas has reported on TV when he put a shotgun under his bed fearing a backlash with his slash and cut volume one policies, knowing this would happen with his setting us up for a divide between rich and poor something we never knew as I grew up with during the 40’s and 50’s.

  2. The Cabinet Ministers allegedly refused to allow representatives from their Departments of Police, Justice and Social Development to attend a public meeting called by Manukau MP, Jenny Salesa, and the local Indian Association on Friday 29th April.
    Needless to say the people at the meeting were angry at the obvious disregard of their concerns by the Cabinet Ministers concerned.
    A letter expressing concern at these decisions and raising questions about how the Departments proposed to deal with the situation was signed by all those attending the meeting and forwarded to the Ministers by Hon Phil Goff.

  3. I used to live in Avondale and on an ordinary day just as school let out I was surprised to see about 50 primary school kids converge on the dairy across the rd and a large number of them were just filling their schoolbags with soft drinks and chips and walking out.

    If I owned a dairy I’d barricade the store and you’d all be getting served through a slot like the late night petrol stations.

  4. There seems to be plenty of police around to search and seize Nicky Hager and defend SkyCity during the TPPA signing.
    And plenty of police issuing traffic fines.

    As well as government interference and cost cutting to the police, there is also more demand on police due to the government artificially increasing population through immigration at record levels without the increasing numbers of police.

  5. stop left wing twats going on about how hard prisoners have it in prison, for example entertaining complaints about the flavor of their milk , and demonstrate a willingness to get a bit tough on crime by way of attitude to offenders and resourcing of police.

    • I see your good ideas moment was only fleeting.
      Never let a good trolling opportunity slip, eh?

        • Your memory is a bit fleeting too.
          Only a few days ago you suggested banning the army from having guns.
          I thought that was a good idea from you, for once, but I expect it will be a one-off.
          Every troll has his day, I suppose.

    • “demonstrate a willingness to get a bit tough on crime by way of attitude to offenders and resourcing of police”

      Like they do in USA? How’s that working?

      • I suggest a robbery is less likely if a couple of beat cops are near by or cruising past in their Commodore.

        • Dave: “I suggest a robbery is less likely if a couple of beat cops are near by or cruising past in their Commodore.”

          Bunkum. The chance of beat police being fortuitously nearby when such an incident occurs is vanishingly small. That’s always been true.

          It isn’t the relative invisibililty of police on the streets that causes or exacerbates armed robberies. The problem isn’t new, either: it’s been going on for many years, yea verily, even back unto the days of the bobby on the beat, either on foot or in the patrol car.

          Other factors drive the prevalence of it; absent data, we can’t even be sure that it’s happening more often than in former years.

            • That’s not dribble at all Dave – crime stats are extremely unreliable.

              At best, putting more cops on the street will have little effect. Even if you flood a crime prone area with cops, it will just shift crime to other places. Giuliani did this in New York – he cleaned up some parts like Manhattan, but that just shifted violent crime into undesirable parts of the other boroughs.

                • “Perhaps you dont want cops around for some reason?”

                  Yeah, because our justice system is racist. I’d rather we invested into creating a society where crime is reduced.

                  I don’t understand how a left-wing blog can publish posts that promote the ‘tough on crime’ perspective.

                  When did more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff become more desirable? I’d expect this on Kiwiblog or something…

  6. Don’t worry we can save money on police when TPPA comes in, just import them in from Vietnam on $15 p/h. Police are overpaid! sarc.

    You don’t need too much skill to search people’s house aka Nicky Hager and prosecute people for downloading pirated videos’s for Warners.

    How about charter police?

    Big business could set up their own police on performance pay. If they don’t prosecute enough poor people to send to Serco they lose their bonus. Works a treat for justice. sarc.

    And we all know transnational profits are becoming our biggest export beating milk powder and fishing.

    At least the .1% are making a $$$, unfortunately because they can quasi legally pay no taxes, there isn’t enough money for local taxes to pay police with the amount of aid Scenic hotels is needing.

  7. The answer is so obvious that it would never occur to National.
    Tell the police to do what they used to do – patrol the streets, respond to emergency calls, investigate burglaries, have community police, have police stations that actually have police in them.
    Resource the police force properly.
    Stop using them as a management tool for silencing political opponents and wasting their time snoozing beside speed cameras.
    We all know that it will never happen under National.

  8. The article is very relevant and well written.

    One way to free up the Police would be for the Ministry of Transport to reinstate the specialist road cops, as they used to be and leave the Police to do what they are assigned to do, that is crime solving.
    As it is now, the Police seem to find plenty of time to sit on the road sides gathering revenue and my guess is that suits the current Govt just fine.
    Fines are another tax after all.

  9. I know this is off topic and of a more…erm… light hearted side but I’ve just flicked over to the Herald and viewed 8 Police doing the ‘Running man’ dance.

    It was great, …and those guys and gals were good at it !

    Ok it isn’t the stern stuff of the subject at hand but to see them perform it and the smiles … in all this we’ve still got to see most of the Police as genuine and as people with friends and family too,… and remember that they do struggle with govt cuts as many other social services do. Its not their fault.

    Anyways- well done to the 8 officers – you were great!

  10. There’s always a left-wing solution…

    Why not redistribute resources across society so that people don’t feel the need to steal and commit violent crime:

    https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/Income%20Inequality%20and%20Crime%20-%20A%20Review%20and%20Explanation%20of%20the%20Time%20series%20evidence_0.pdf

    And change our prisons so they rehabilitate instead of produce more crime:

    http://www.businessinsider.com.au/why-norways-prison-system-is-so-successful-2014-12?r=US&IR=T

  11. New Zealand First secured a thousand extra front-line police plus three hundred support staff the last time we were proximate to Government between 2005-2008, and it’s incredibly disheartening that National appears to have undone our good work at the stroke of a series of pens over the last few years.

    That’s fairly typicla of National. They talk big on defence and law and order and how we need these things when in opposition and then, once in power, they start cutting taxes which means government services need to be cut and police and defence forces are often the first on the chopping block.

    People shouldn’t *have* to take the law into their own hands, because our Police ought to be properly resourced.

    This is incorrect. The police do need to be properly resourced but the people need to be empowered and encouraged to protect themselves and others. This will mean being able to arrest and physically restrain someone if needed. This will increase sense of community by ensuring that we can rely upon each other again – something that has been lacking these many past years.

    Sure, it will mean that people will need to be trained in the law and responses but that’s a hell of a lot better than leaving them ignorant and powerless.

    Unless, of course, you want them ignorant and powerless.

  12. Those crims seem highly organised. Clips of the petrol station robberies showed they know exactly what to do, and fast – I reckon there is a ‘mastermind’ training and managing these people. I guess it’s like prohibition in the US – cigs are so expensive now that the blackmarket is thriving. It would be nice to think the police are investigating this angle, but we’re not seeing much action. Are detectives working on this?

  13. This is evidence of the US disease we have chosen in New Zealand. “Politics is verboten”, that is what we have in real effect in this country, as we have a missing million who have lost all interest in politics, or never developed an interest, as their social realities and economic realities are far from what the ordinary engaged voter would see as their realities.

    We have parties that all rush to cater for the “middle ground”, that is the middle class and its sections within, forgetting that society includes more than these people, at the top and AT THE BOTTOM.

    So in the US this is nothing new, the “protest” people show is NOT expressed in a political way. They have not developed any political awareness, as they are even discouraged to do so, due to commercial dumbing-down by business and state interests, allowing massive brainwashing by adverts. The state there has failing to provide an environment where people can feel to be part of a “citizen society” (with more equality, involvement and being valued).

    We are heading into the same direction as a failed society, forget the hand-wringing about child poverty, about damp, cramped homes, about unaffordable housing and child abuse, crime and the rest.

    The ones at the top, even the ones leading the opposition, have lost touch with the common folk, especially the ones at the bottom, those that feel they do not count, they may be on benefits or being denied them, they have nothing, are treated like trash, feel like trash and thus dish out as “trash”, that is angry, neglected and ignored people.

    We have dairies, liquor shops and gambling dens run by many new “entrepreneurial” migrants, who realised they could not make it in a profession they are qualified in, so they run easy businesses, to make a living. By the locals they are perceived as outsiders, invaders even, as immigrants that are new, and may not belong and are not accepted, they are easy prey, as they are perceived of being better off and living on the expense of the poor here.

    Especially in South Auckland and some other suburbs in NZ cities, this is a common situation and sentiment, so young people with no work, no training, no prospects, they see their middle class youth of the same age afford stuff they cannot, so they just go and take it, one way or another.

    Do you really believe the white washed crap we get from government, the statistics about growth, about low unemployment, and all being so “great”?

    Get a reality check, some feel as they do not belong, and they do what the same poor do in the US, their form of “protest” is crime, that is sad, but it was forced upon them by a government and society that simply only talks about “caring” but that is highly judgmental, breeds competition, envy, social injustice and therefore deserves nothing else but rebellion, sad it happens in this way, but to me all this is a form of rebellion.

    Shopkeepers may arm themselves, but it will only lead to a yet more vicious cycle. Welcome to the divide and rule society that John Key and his mates created, division rules, and hence you get divisive and at times hostile reaction.

    There is NO ONE New Zealand anymore, it does NOT exist, it is a divided nation, where we have Darwin’s law, compete, fight, survive, or die.

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